By Jess Blair
If you’re a young person living in Wales in 2018 your political landscape has fundamentally shifted in the past few years. In the context of Brexit, Trump and fake news, young people have more at stake than ever with such events having a direct impact on their futures.
In Wales, this seismic political time comes alongside moves to extend the right to vote in Assembly and local government elections to 16 and 17 year olds. Next year will see legislation tabled to make this happen, with the first 16 year olds to vote likely doing so in the next Assembly elections in 2021.
In this context, there has never been a better time to reconsider the place of democracy in education. We have here an opportunity- an opportunity to make young people active citizens and equip them with far more political expertise than the rest of us ever had when first beginning to vote. The fact that young people are essentially a captive audience, with the majority of them at school, gives us a direct route with which to engage, educate and empower the very people that embody the future of Wales.
Over the last few months, ‘Our Voices Heard’ has spoken with nearly 200 young people about politics, political education and democracy. We believe these young people represent a wider call for change. The ‘our’ in ‘Our Voices Heard’ is simple- it’s for the young people we’ve been speaking to. This is their opportunity to have a say, to impact on decisions that affect their lives.
Our sessions with young people in 11 schools across Wales have been co-produced. That means we’ve asked them for their ideas and recommendations on how to improve political education in Wales. Each class then voted for their top recommendations, which were taken to a panel of people working in education, politics, teachers and young people to be refined and prepared for formally handing to Welsh Government.
What the young people we’ve spoken to have told us is that there is a current lack of political education in schools. Most we spoke to had received very little, if any at all. Yet, despite this there was a desire to know more. More about the way decisions are made, about how to campaign and influence those decisions, and how things in Wales actually work. There were overwhelming calls in nearly all of the schools too for better financial education to go alongside information about democracy, as well as demands for more practical experiences of politics. Ideas that we saw repeatedly come up were around the need for a national mock election where people under the voting age could ‘practice’ voting at the same time as adults.
At the moment, for most people politics is just this thing that happens over there. We need to bridge the gap between people and politics and showing people the personal side of politics is the way to start building that bridge. Whether it’s politicians coming into schools to take part in a ‘question time’ style event, or schools being offered a chance to tour political institutions, showing people the practical side of democracy can only complement what they can learn in a classroom.
The ideas that we present for ‘Our Voices Heard’ are therefore directly from and for young people. They are a call for change, so that generations to come can be better equipped than we are to deal with and be part of a changing and challenged democracy. We hope their voices can be fully heard.
Director, ERS Cymru
By Madison Phipps Magill
Wales is moving forward with its Youth Parliament and the introduction of Votes at 16, yet we still find that young people are not receiving education on politics which enables them to make an informed decision and choice. Therefore it is important for political education to be included in the education curriculum.
I am interested in politics and believe that children and young people should be empowered to engage in politics and understand the decision-making process, who the political parties are and what’s in their manifestos.
For me the recommendation around introducing politics in school on a weekly basis primarily in PSE and Welsh Baccalaureate is key. I really like it, however, it needs to be age appropriate to the students who are receiving the information and needs to start in year 6.
I hope Welsh Government take notice of what we are saying. If I could ask one question of the Education Secretary it would be how is she going to prioritise political education in Wales and how much progress needs to be made for this to be implemented.
Madison Phipps Magill
14, Bedwas High School
Participant in the ‘Our Voices Heard’ project